Evicting a tenant in California involves a straightforward process. Unfortunately, however, it is not always easy to do without professional help. Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to hire an attorney to evict a tenant. You may be surprised, but most landlords can work with a legal document preparer to draft all the forms needed to file with the court to complete the eviction process. Below is an overview of the steps to evict a tenant in California.

“I was so frustrated when the judge threw out my entire case because of a small error in the paperwork I had completed on my own. I had to start the entire eviction process over! What a horrible nightmare!” G. Hernandez
“The eviction process is not cheap, particularly with attorneys. I was so happy that A People’s Choice offered a less expensive option, and I finally was able to get my property back to rent it out again.” G. Hernandez

7 Steps to Evict a Tenant in California

The eviction process is precise. This means that the paperwork and the process require careful attention and precision, with little to no room for error. We often see landlords who have tried to complete the process without help only to find their case kicked out of court for some minor discrepancy in their paperwork. Below is an outline of the basic steps to evict a tenant in California.

Step One: Determine Legal Grounds to Evict Tenant

One of the first steps to evict a tenant in California is to determine the legal grounds to evict the unwanted tenant. Under California law, a landlord can evict a tenant if one of the following occur:

1. The tenant fails to pay rent

2. The tenant breaks the lease or breaches another term of the rental agreement

3. The tenant commits waste (for example, damages the property)

4. The tenant becomes a serious nuisance to other tenants

5. The tenant conducts illegal activity on the property

As a landlord, these first steps to evict a tenant are critical. Be aware that any error may invalidate the entire process. First, California law requires you to notify the tenant of the legal grounds for their eviction. This notice is often called a Notice to Vacate or Notice to Quit. The type of notice you use will depend on the reason you want to evict the tenant. If the reasons is “curable” (meaning the tenant can do something to fix the problem and stop the eviction) the notice may provide the tenant with an opportunity to cure the defect (for example, pay any outstanding rent due). Depending on the nature of the rental arrangement, you may want to consider using a mediator to help resolve your landlord-tenant dispute.

A landlord must provide at least a 30-day notice period to terminate month-to-month tenants. Tenants who have lived in the property a year or longer are entitled to a 60 day notice. For material breaches (other than failing to pay rent), a landlord can provide a 3-day notice to the tenant.

Step Two:  Provide the Tenant with Notice

The notice provided to the tenant must be served. It is not uncommon for tenants to try to avoid being served with notice. Fortunately, there are several methods you can use to have a tenant served. We recommend hiring a professional process server to serve the tenant by one of the following methods:

1. Personally deliver a copy of the notice to the tenant
2. Leave the notice with a person over 18-years-old at the tenant’s residence
3. Obtain a court order to post the notice on the tenant’s front door

If the tenant fails to cure the legal issue within the allotted time after being served with notice and they remain in the property, you will then need to  consider filing a civil suit known as an unlawful detainer action against the tenant(s).

Step Three: File an Unlawful Detainer Lawsuit

One of the more detailed steps to evict a tenant pertains to the paperwork involved in the court process. Due to the complexities of the paperwork, we recommend that you get some type of professional help preparing the required court paperwork for the California eviction process. You can either hire an expensive attorney or, alternatively, work with a legal document preparer to prepare and file an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Upon filing the complaint, the court will issue a summons to the tenant.

Step Four: Allow the Tenant Time to Respond or Vacate Premises

After the date of service of the civil eviction complaint, the tenant has five days to file a response or, alternatively, move out. In some cases (and often to stall the court process) a tenant will file a motion to attack the manner in which he/she was served. In other instances, a tenant will simply file an answer to the complaint.

Step Five: Request a Court Date for Trial

If the tenant does not file an Answer or respond to the court case, you may be able to continue with the process without having to have a court trial. Contact A People’s Choice to help you with this additional paperwork. However, if the tenant does file an Answer, the landlord should immediately request a court trial date. A court trial is usually scheduled within 10 to 20 days from the filing of the request.

Step Six: Go to Court

As the landlord, if the matter continues to a trial you will need to bring records of the tenant’s violation and supporting evidence to court. The judge will hear the case and make a ruling.

Step Seven: Have Sheriff Schedule Move Out

One of the last steps to evict a tenant in California is arranging the formal move-out. If the judge rules in favor of the landlord, the Judge will sign a court order that ends the tenant’s right to stay in the property. A Writ of Possession can then be issued by the Court Clerk and taken to the local sheriff’’s office. The sheriff will serve the tenant with a copy of the Writ which will include a final 5 day notice to vacate. After the notice expires, the Sheriff will meet the landlord at the property, physically remove the tenants and the landlord can then change the locks on the property.

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(Our office no longer handles Unlawful Detainer/Evictions proceedings)

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